WASHINGTON/TOKYO — Japan and the United States will pledge to jointly help Southeast Asian nations boost their marine surveillance capabilities, a newspaper said Saturday, as tensions over territorial disputes in the region simmer. U.S. President Barak Obama will discuss the issue with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his visit to Japan next week. A deal is expected to be included in the joint statement signed by both leaders and issued after the summit meeting, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. Under the planned accord, the two countries are expected to offer patrol vessels to members of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), the mass-circulation daily said, citing unnamed sources. They will also agree to train ASEAN coastguards and help the countries develop an information-sharing system against pirates and suspicious ships in the region, the newspaper said. The Japan-U.S. initiative is aimed at helping ASEAN members not only take effective measures against pirates and natural disasters but also boost their deterrence capacity against China’s assertive claim to disputed territories, it added. “Improving ASEAN’s ocean surveillance capability will benefit Japan and the United States,” a Japanese government official said, according to Yomiuri. Obama is scheduled to visit Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, and will be under duress to address maritime territorial disputes between U.S. allies and China. Aides said Friday that the president would restate staunch U.S. support for its friends, underline its role as a Pacific power, and seek to reassure the region that his Asia “rebalancing” strategy is not running out of steam. Obama will also attempt to make progress in dragged out negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, and reassure potential partners that he could get it endorsed by a reluctant Congress. Obama is set to travel to Asia on Tuesday, but will certainly remain preoccupied by simmering foreign policy crises elsewhere, especially in Ukraine and in the Middle East.
Maritime Dispute Headache “The president’s trip to Asia is an important opportunity to underscore our continued focus on the Asia-Pacific region,” said Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice. “At a time of ongoing regional tensions, particularly with regard to North Korea and territorial disputes, the trip offers a chance for the United States to affirm our commitment to a rules-based order in the region. “There’s a significant demand for U.S. leadership in that region, and our strategy of rebalancing to Asia includes economic, political, security and cultural interests in Northeast and Southeast Asia,” she said. Obama would emphasize that Washington wants maritime disputes in the South and East China seas settled peacefully, in accordance with the rule of law, Rice said. Washington does not take a position on the various territorial claims of regional powers, but has in the past angered China by suggesting that these claims should be solved through a multi-lateral process. China, taking advantage of its size and influence, prefers to discuss the maritime rows in a bilateral fashion with individual nations. Obama’s trip will be his first to the region since Beijing declared an Air Defense Zone in the South China Sea last year, which Washington branded as illegitimate.